Terry Sanford: The Fight for Public Education (5/12)
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Terry Sanford: The Fight for Public Education (5/12)

All over the south the voters were electing
strong segregationists. Terry Sanford was very different from those
other politicians. and perhaps more than anything he was a politician
with some real political courage. North Carolina, in terms of the support that
it gives its school system, and the terms of the performance, measures out somewhere
in the bottom ten. I would like…The schools weren’t very good. And that was going to mean a very dire economic
future for North Carolina. So Terry had an audacious plan to improve
education mainly by increasing teacher pay not a little bit, but a lot. And we didn’t have the money to do it. On the campaign trail, he was advocating for
a sales tax that would fund education. So he gave an entire speech, at the end of
which somebody stood up and said, “Well, who is going to pay for all that?” And he said, “Well, taxes, of course.” And the entire crowd cheered. And he walked off the stage and looked at
his campaign manager and said “Can you believe it?” And his campaign manager said to him, “No,
no, no, you don’t understand. They thought you said Texas!” When he got to the state house, he had a very
conservative, very traditional General Assembly. They weren’t particularly interested in the
kind of far-reaching ideas he had about education, about a lot of other things. Have you been criticized at all for this attitude
of putting education first? Well, I’ve been criticized for a lot of things,
but I don’t think there’s been much serious criticism for putting education first because
education will determine our advances and economic development, income, wholesome living
and everything else. We knew what we were doing. We had a well-defined program that would lay
the groundwork for future progress. Tonight we must begin to swing wide the doors
of the future to our children. for beyond the threshold lie the hopes and
aspirations not only of our children, but all the world’s children. Having concluded that we must take decisive
steps for school improvement, and having concluded that we must have more money, the difficult
decision is what sources will best distribute equitably the cost among all the citizens
of the state who will share in the benefits of the services provided. It is my recommendation that you remove all
exemptions from the sales tax. the opposition called it Terry’s School Tax. No legislature likes to raise taxes. they still don’t, and it’s even worse now
than it was before. But Terry persuaded them to raise taxes. You know, and it was a tax on food! There was a tax extending the North Carolina
sales tax to cover food. Food! the very thing that everybody has to
have! it would be the last…if you were looking at what’s fair and the right thing to do,
it’d be the last thing you’d…it was the last thing he came to. But he came to it because it was the only
thing that old, conservative legislature would pass. Even getting that through took more skill
and energy and hard work and determination and drive than you can imagine! He got the legislature to understand that
it was important for economic growth and jobs. That’s the thing that really brings people
together. You can get liberals and conservatives, all
kinds of folks together on that. I’ve been traveling about the state, visiting
schools, and talking to students about what I hoped we could do in North Carolina to create
the kind of jobs right here that can challenge you, and give you as good a challenge as you
get anywhere else. When I asked at the General Assembly, I pointed
out to them that I can’t put this tax in…that we have to all put it in. I do not come to you expecting popular acclaim
for what I have to say. I do come to do my duty in full confidence
that you in turn will do your duty. It was politically terribly controversial. But he fought it through the legislature,
and it enabled North Carolina to make the largest single increase in expenditures for
K-12 education in its history. So you have a massive infusion of funds in
public education. It’s also not known very widely that Terry
Sanford during his administration created a commission on higher education which ended
up producing, creating the North Carolina system of community colleges and technical
institutes. He clearly recognized for many students, particularly
those that had never thought they could ever go to a place like UNC-Chapel Hill, that wasn’t
going to be their educational option. they needed something else. North Carolina must say to the young people
of the state, “If you have the will and the skill, you can go to college.” We wanted to have this available in commuting
distance of every student, and every person in the state. I never from then on failed to say if we need
more money for the future of our children and their schools, I will have the courage
to ask the legislature for increased taxes.

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